Gaza's traumatised children are paying the heaviest price for the endless wars raining down on them. Israel, Hamas and the international community have all failed them.
Sunday 23 May 2021
Of the 65 children killed during the latest Israeli bombardment of Gaza, 11 had been taking part in the psycho-social programme for war-traumatised children run by the Norwegian Refugee Council. Their names were Hala (12), Hana (14), Rula (5), Mira (11), Dana (9), Lina (15), Dima (15), Tala (13), Rafeef (10), Hala (13) and Yara (9). The programme treats as many as 75,000 Palestinian children.
Once again, the children killed during the Israeli ‘smart' bombardment were mere collateral damage of the regional Game of Thrones. Their ages ranged from five to 15. They died in their homes across the most densely populated hotspots of one of the world's most densely populated regions: the Palestinian enclave on the Mediterranean, controlled by Hamas ever since the summer of 2006. Ever since 2007, it has been placed under Israeli and partially Egyptian economic and logistical blockade.
The 65 murdered children are a potent symbol of the fate of the entire Gaza area, the world's largest open-air prison. Hemmed in by concrete walls, countless watchtowers, machine-gun nests and bunkers, Gaza is policed with the help of the most advanced surveillance technology.
The past fortnight's bombardment was the fourth large-scale Israeli military operation against Hamas over the last 12.5 years. But even this simple horrendous fact can be misleading. Putting any sort of temporal limits on Israeli military aggression misses the point, since it is almost a non-stop fixture of Gazan life, even if the Israeli army officially vacated Gaza in 2005 – what changes is the intensity.
Hamas' rockets – much like the missiles deployed by its rival Islamic movements – are also being fired towards Israel during the times when the Palestinians' plight is not prime-time news across the globe. But the vast majority of these missiles is intercepted by Iron Dome, the Israeli anti-missile system mostly developed and financed by the United States.
The people of Gaza, over 2 million of them, have long been stripped of their most basic human rights. They have been condemned to destitution, squalour, unbearable overcrowding, insufferable hygienic facilities and a state of eternal strife. They are also condemned to the ever more violent and authoritarian rule of Hamas, mercilessly exploiting the suffering of Palestinians to strengthen its grip on power.
During the first 10 days of the latest bombardment, whose tactical objective was to lure the Hamas leadership into the underground tunnels only to bomb them to oblivion, six prominent Hamas leaders were slain. Yet the organisation itself has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to not merely survive all the horrendous losses and internal clashes, but somehow thrive… A fact explainable only if we see Hamas for what it is: Israel's perfect partner in crime.
It's not that Hamas possesses some mythical capacity for regeneration. Rather, it is being constantly renewed and replenished by the radicalising effects of Israeli politics, not to mention the corrupt and thoroughly incompetent Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Besieged by Israel and cornered by Mahmoud Abbas, the Islamist party's sole discernible goal is to hold on to power, all the unwittingly collaborating with Israel to neutralize any blip of political competition and cracking down on the resurgent Palestinian civil society.
So for Hamas, as for Israel, civilian casualties are mere pawns in the inhumanly sordid war for the status quo – one in which Israel provokes and Hamas obliges. Long-time Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, whose unfaltering devotion to apartheid and ethnic cleansing policies was crowned with the police raids on Jerusalem's Noble Sanctuary and the Al Aqsa compound, which managed to provoke yet another savage conflagration. This is very likely to net the embattled premier a further extension of his record-breaking 12-year reign.
As things stand, it seems unlikely that Yair Lapid, the opposition leader, will be able to piece together an anti-Netanyahu coalition within the 11-day window open to him. On the other hand, the Israeli far-right – the heart and soul of Israeli political life over the past 15 years – seems on the verge of unification. Such an event would mean a colossal victory for King Bibi.
Yet the murdered and traumatised children of Gaza are also the victims of the toothless and increasingly indifferent international community, which has long proved unable to prevent much of anything. This is especially true of the UN Security Council, whose ossified Cold War framework with its vetoes, is the godparent of most modern wars. Moreover, there is no such thing as a common European foreign policy, let alone any genuine empathy for the Palestinian plight. Only the United States possesses any real capacity to curb Israel's radical Machiavellianism, but it is hard to think of a less likely actor wielding its power to influence Israel.
The people of Gaza have long been reduced to a metaphor for benevolence and resistance by their supporters, and a metaphor for malevolence and violence by their enemies. But the murdered and traumatised children are not symbols. They are innocent flesh-and-blood humans.